Senators Bond and Murray respond to Sen. Coburn on trail and bikeway funding
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is the Chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee. Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO) is the Republican Ranking Member of this Appropriations Subcommittee.
remarks by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) who states "we should
not be spending money on bicycle paths... when we have bridges that
are falling down."
From the Congressional Record - Sept. 11, 2007
Mr. BOND: "Mr. President, before my friend from Oklahoma leaves, we talk a lot about safety. This is one of the problems when we try to take a meat ax to all earmarked programs in the States that have been worked out. I was working on another amendment, so I didn't hear whether he mentioned the $750,000 for the Heart of America Bridge in Kansas City. But in the interest of full disclosure, yes, we put in a retrofitting of a bridge to provide a barrier-separated crossing for bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the Missouri River from north Kansas City to downtown Kansas City.
Mr. BOND. Mr. President, the reason we put in a barrier on this bridge between north Kansas City, a vibrant growing community, and, of course, the heart of Kansas City, MO, is that many people cross that bridge on foot and on bicycles. The traffic is getting so heavy that there is great danger to the pedestrians and bicycle riders. For those who like exercise and like conserving energy, many people commute between north Kansas City and Kansas City, MO, by foot or on bicycles. But for them to continue to do that, they need to be separated from the traffic.
"I drive on the streets of Washington, DC, where bicyclists are not separated from traffic. It is always with great fear and trepidation as I am driving in two lanes of traffic coming to work in the morning and I see a bicyclist riding down the street between us. I just hope and pray that I am not the one who hits that bicyclist and that nobody hits them.
"But if we are going to have bicyclists using roadways, please, let's put a barrier to separate the bicyclists and the pedestrians from the traffic. If we are talking about safety, I believe this is one of the easiest points to understand, and that is why I object so strongly to saying that any earmark we put in our States that deals with bicycles should be struck.
"Where is the sense in this body to tell the people of Kansas City and north Kansas City they cannot have a protected pedestrian and bicycle means of ingress and egress between north Kansas City and regular Kansas City? It makes so much sense that I really hate to bring it up. That is what this amendment would do. That is why I will strongly oppose the amendment.
Mrs. MURRAY: "Madam President, I join my colleague from Missouri in opposing the amendment that has been offered by Senator Coburn.
"Under the SAFETEA-LU authorization bill, that is the surface transportation authorization law, the bill that defines all of the transportation projects for the country, communities are required to prepare comprehensive transportation plans in order to receive Federal highway and transit grants. Those plans have to include the communities' plans for bike and pedestrian pathways. We set that policy because these plans are meant to be comprehensive, and our national policy has been to recognize bike and pedestrian pathways as one component of an entire, complete transportation system. They can't constitute the largest part of the system, but a plan that ignores that element is not complete.
"Now, there are three reasons our national transportation policy has recognized the role of bike and pedestrian paths in the role of transportation authorization. There is safety, there is mobility, and there is our healthy communities about which we are all concerned. When we put in adequate bike paths and walkways, what we are essentially doing in many of our communities is protecting the safety of our families and our neighbors. In many of our communities, without those paths, many more bicyclists and pedestrians would be forced to commute with regular vehicle traffic.
"Everyone on bicycle or on foot is vulnerable when they are mixed in with heavy traffic. But I contend our school-aged children are often the ones who are the most vulnerable, and that is why it is extremely important that we protect these kinds of pathways in our transportation bills.
"When we put in place these bike paths and walkways, we also provide essential mobility to a lot of people who can't afford to drive a car, who don't have a car, or for disability reasons can't drive a car. These are people who sometimes can't afford the daily travel by car, but they have their bike. They might like to travel by bus or a transit vehicle, but perhaps there aren't any available and so they are on our bikeways, bike paths, and walkways, and they need a mode of transportation within our communities as well.
"It wasn't very long ago I happened to read an article in the Washington Post about informal bike and pedestrian paths showing up all over northern Virginia. These are just foot paths now, apparently, and not much more than grassy areas where commuters come and go on a daily basis. From the story, it said most of the people walking along these paths can't afford to commute by train or by car. They are walking to their jobs every day. These jobs don't pay a lot. These families need to get to work to support their families, and so they are walking on these pathways all over northern Virginia, the story tells us. The unfortunate part of that story, as I read it, is that these bike and pathways crossed over four lanes of traffic, many times without any traffic signals to accommodate them. So those commuters who are walking on these paths scrambled every day to get across four lanes of traffic because the transportation system didn't protect them as bicyclists or as pedestrians.
"So mobility is important and safety is important. But, finally, we all recognize that having healthy communities is an important part of our country today. In recent years, we have all become aware of how our physical infrastructure affects our daily lives, and too often people find themselves trapped in cars by a transportation network that will not allow them to walk or bike to work, which can be an important part of an exercise regime for many who choose that. So these bike paths and walkways provide an alternative to cars and help make our communities more healthy and more like neighborhoods.
"When the Senate passed the last Transportation authorization bill, the so-called SAFETEA-LU, that bill recognized that bike and pedestrian pathways were one component of a complete transportation system for our communities. The President signed that bill into law. Today, if we choose to pick out this one mode of transportation and say we are not going to have bike paths or walkways, that we are excluding that from transportation funding, we would be making, on the floor of the Senate today and in the Transportation appropriations bill, a major shift in our transportation policy.
"So I hope our colleagues will take a serious look at this amendment and realize that it will affect the safety of many of our citizens who commute to work, to school, and those who, in their daily lives, don't have a car or who choose to walk for their own personal health or ride a bike for their own personal health.
"I hope the Senator from Oklahoma will wait to have this discussion when we are back on the floor during the reauthorization bill, which will be occurring during the next couple of years, and he will then have an opportunity to make his arguments at that time during the surface transportation debate. But today we are not considering an authorization bill. We are considering a transportation appropriations bill. And, yes, it does include an alternative for many people in this country, which is part of their transportation. It is part of their commute to work or to school or their daily lives, and it is an essential part of this bill.
"So I urge my colleagues to vote no on the Coburn amendment, and we will be having that vote certainly after 7 o'clock."
Read more about debates on trails and bike/ped facility funding:
SecretaryPeters' remarks at 2004 Trails Symposium
Sen. Coburn's proposal to redirect federal bike funds
Rep. McHenry opposing bicycling and trails funding
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Updated September 14, 2007